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Anderson v. Franklin Institute

No. 13-5374, 185 F. Supp. 3d 628
United States Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania,
May 6, 2016

Keywords: admission fee, personal care attendant, ADA, equal access, disability, public accommodation, museum, theater, exhibitions, reasonable modification.

Summary

Michael Anderson needs a personal care attendant (“PCA”) twenty-four hours a day to assist with activities of daily living. Mr. Anderson visited The Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, PA (museum), accompanied by his PCA. The museum charged the PCA additional fees for general admission, admission to the IMAX Theater, and Special Exhibits.

The United States District Court ruled that Mr. Anderson was entitled to injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 12181 of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) meaning the museum must modify their policies to allow people with disabilities who need a PCA full and meaningful access to The Franklin Institute rather than pay a fine.

Facts of the Case

Michael Anderson has a significant disability and needs the assistance of a personal care attendant (“PCA”) twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to help with all aspects of daily living. Mr. Anderson was accompanied by his PCA during a visit to The Franklin Institute (museum). Without the help of a PCA, Mr. Anderson cannot walk through the museum, join the interactive exhibits, drink water, safely move around the museum, Special Exhibitions, and IMAX, or enjoy an IMAX film in the IMAX theater.

At the time Mr. Anderson visited the museum, he was charged an additional and separate admission fee for his PCA to enter doubling the cost of his admission. The museum has since changed their policy to allow PCAs to support patrons with disabilities without additional general admission fees.

Issues of the Case

  1. Did Mr. Anderson have standing (the right) to sue for injunctive relief under Title III of the ADA U.S.C. §§ 12181?
  2. Was Mr. Anderson’s proposed modification reasonable and necessary for full and equal access under Title III of the ADA U.S.C. §§ 12181?

Arguments and Analysis

1. Did Mr. Anderson have standing to sue for injunctive relief under Title III of the ADA U.S.C. §§ 12131?

The Court had to decide if the museum’s policy change was enough to make Mr. Anderson’s claim unnecessary, preventing Mr. Anderson from having standing.

The U.S. Constitution does not allow courts to hear cases where there is no issue to decide.

The Court previously said the museum policy change did not mean the Court no longer had jurisdiction. The Court also believed that the old policy was evidence that there was a real and immediate threat of repeated injury to people with disabilities. The Court said that getting a refund for the dual membership ends Mr. Anderson’s standing only if the museum has policies and practices currently in place that allow proper access.

The museum’s initial response to the suit was that it had a legal right to charge PCAs for general admission. While the museum could show that PCAs had been allowed to enter free of charge, there was no evidence that the admissions were due to a formal policy that Mr. Anderson could expect to have in the future.

The Court ruled that Mr. Anderson was prevented from visiting the museum due to real accessibility barriers. The Court said that while the museum may have put a formal policy in place or tried to formalize a previous policy, by not enforcing its own stated policy, it showed the museum knew of the accessibility barriers and it was likely Mr. Anderson would use the facility if not for the barriers.

2. Was Mr. Anderson’s proposed modification reasonable and necessary for full and equal access under Title III of the ADA U.S.C. §§ 12181?

The Court then had to decide if the ADA requires PCAs to get free admission when accompanying patrons with disabilities to the museum. The Court has said earlier that a purpose of the ADA was to level the playing field for people with disabilities, and preferential treatment is sometimes necessary to have equal opportunity.

The Court said that giving a person with a disability the same treatment as nondisabled patrons does not negate discrimination. The Court said that the museum’s position that every person is equally charged admission regardless of the circumstances does not address Mr. Anderson’s needs associated with his disability that other patrons do not have. The Court said that, given the degree of his disabilities, Anderson could not participate in or benefit from the museum’s services without the help of a PCA. The Court ruled that Anderson qualified for preferential treatment as a reasonable modification.

The Court considered the museum’s current policy when deciding if Anderson’s proposed modification was reasonable. The new policy allows people with disabilities who need personal assistive services to visit the museum without charging the PCA general admission when assisting a patron with a disability. The Court held that the museum’s new policy shows that letting PCAs in at no charge is not an undue financial burden or fundamental alteration to the Franklin Institute.

Rulings

The Court ruled that Mr. Anderson had standing to sue under the ADA because there was enough evidence that the museum policy was a real, immediate, and direct threat to Mr. Anderson. The Court also ruled that Mr. Anderson was entitled to modifications under the ADA that will permanently allow full and meaningful access to the Franklin Institute and his request for free admission for his PCA was reasonable, due to the minimal cost to the museum.

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